Have you ever experienced a miracle? I believe I have, and two days ago my wife and I brought him home from the hospital, praise God! After an ultrasound at 32 weeks revealed two serious issues in our unborn baby’s brain, which doctors were powerless to do anything about until he arrived, our world was in many ways turned upside down as a whole swathe of possible outcomes presented by neonatologists and neurosurgeons bounced around in our heads. You can read more about that stage of our journey here, as we sought to depend on God to get us through, but I’d be lying if I said the prognosis didn’t make the last few weeks of our pregnancy quite different to the unrestrained excitement we’d experienced with our first pregnancy.
Thursday the 7th of June 2018 (37 weeks and 5 days) was the day we were to meet our new baby via caesarean, which had been arranged due to the fact that the swelling in the brain was causing the head circumference to measure over the 99th percentile making natural birth dangerous as contractions would put too much pressure on the brain. At 3.19pm, a baby boy – a brother to our first son, Asher – entered our family, causing us to simultaneously give thanks to God while buckling up for one of the most intense weeks of our lives. The obstetricians and neonatologists had prepared us for the fact that the baby may need to be rushed to neonatal intensive care, would likely need help feeding and need to be fed via syringe, may have a visibly disproportionate head and could have a number of other complications, with the possibility of further symptoms developing down the track. There were between 15 and 20 people in the operating theatre… not exactly a reassuring sign, but they all played their role and we were relieved to hear the first cry as this little life entered the world outside the womb.
1. How Quickly Things Can Change
On Thursday I sat in a small room in a large hospital… again… waiting to hear some good news from the doctors, waiting for some answers, waiting to find out what they can do to help (and when), waiting to see what God will do in this situation and how He will use it for our good and for his glory. Before I go any further forward, I suppose I should go back a couple of weeks… It’s Sunday night. This time the previous week I had been sitting down with my wife, preparing for work to get busy again after a short holiday break, and just generally enjoying the stage of life we’re in with an almost two year old filling our days with joy and another little one on the way.
On Tuesday, we were to attend our final ultrasound before the next baby is born. The scan was booked for 32 weeks for a fairly routine check-up. I was excited to see our little baby for the second time. After attending the first scan I had missed the second scan, so I was keen to see how it had grown. The scan was going fine, we thought, and then the sonographer said she needed to get some extra paperwork. At this point my wife and I didn’t think much of her exit from the room, and I even (perhaps naively) thought the 15-20 minute wait until she returned was nothing to worry about. You just kind of assume things will go alright, well, at least that’s what I assumed. When she returned though, my wife and I heard words you never want to hear as expectant parents during an ultrasound; “I’ve noticed some things that I think you need to speak to a doctor about.” I remember sitting there thinking: hang on, this pregnancy has been quite smooth, the baby has been healthy all the way along, what could possibly be wrong all of a sudden? When I tried to ask for specifics, I was told “I think you really need to speak to someone who is trained to talk to you about this.” So it began…
Today is Good Friday. Yesterday I attended a Maundy Thursday service and as the pastor began his welcome and call to worship he touched on the unusual name we give this day – ‘Good Friday’. It seems that what it commemorates is something so brutal that ‘good’ almost feels like the wrong descriptor, and yet we know that for those whose faith is in Christ and his sacrifice on the cross some 2000 years ago, the outcome of Good Friday is most certainly good. Jesus’ death on Good Friday was one of two central defining moments in God’s salvation plan to redeem his people from bondage to sin and death and transferred us into his Kingdom, laying our sin on Jesus, forgiving us by grace through faith in Him and adopting us as his own.
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Colossians 1:13-14 (ESV)
The pastor said something like “It might seem strange that we call it Good Friday, in fact you might even wonder why we don’t call it Bad Friday…” He went on to explain the good that came from it, which is obviously the most wonderful truth to behold, but it seems to me there are a number of helpful descriptors to use in front of the word ‘Friday’ – words that might help us to approach the commemoration of Jesus’ death with appropriate wonder, awe, grief, humility, joy and thankfulness.
Today was Christmas Eve. I spent it driving an hour each way to and from my old church to fill in on bass for their Christmas Eve carols service before picking up my wife and son to begin two days of visiting family, giving and receiving presents and eating lots of food.
I generally love Christmas. I mean, I grew up loving Christmas and in many ways I still do. I love what it means and represents. I love the fact that after all the craziness in the lead up, people sort of relax for a few days. I love giving and receiving gifts and I don’t mind carols… when they’re done well. As I drove from my new hometown to my old hometown and back today though, I thought about a sort of small and insignificant aspect of Christmas; the wrapping paper.
Recently my wife and I watched a documentary which I had backed on Kickstarter. It was great. You should watch it. It’s a film that reflects back to me the story of my own faith journey over the last five years, a journey shared among many others in my generation who have sought to dig deep into the truth of God’s word and to live in light of the clear teachings of Jesus and the Apostles, with the Bible as our sole infallible authority. Today marks the 500th anniversary of a courageous act by a young Martin Luther who confronted the Roman Catholic church of his day by nailing 95 debate points to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany. It’s important to reflect on and thank God for the lives of faithful men and women who have gone before us, and who confronted the false teachers and corrupt leaders of their day for the sake of the true gospel which they worked hard to get into the hands of common people. That said, there’s more to Reformation Day than just remembering a bunch of dead guys and what they taught. The bigger picture is about paying attention to what the Reformation means, where it led and why the need for semper reformanda (to be constantly reforming) is as real today as it was in 1517.
Famous author and critical thinker C.S. Lewis is quoted as having said that Christianity can either be true and vital or untrue and useless, it cannot be both and it cannot be somewhere in the middle, containing elements of truth and elements of falsehood.
Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.
The same can be said of the core Christian claim that Jesus, the perfect Son of God who was ‘in very nature God’ (Philippians 2:5-11
), died and rose from the grave on the third day, conquering death once and for all by taking the sins of his people upon himself, cancelling their debt before God and rising from the dead.
Recently I found myself in at least two discussions with professing believers about the nature of the atonement (the process of sinners being made right with God) and the true meaning, and purpose, of the cross of Christ.
Writ large across the pages of scripture and therefore heralded for centuries as one of the central components of the Christian faith is the truth that since sin entered the world through Adam (Romans 5:12-21) we have all fallen short of God’s standard (Romans 3:22-23), none of us is righteous in and of ourselves (Romans 3:9-18), we are all slaves to sin (John 8:34), and we are all deserving of its consequences.
The fact that we all deserve to face the ultimate consequence (or wage) for our sin, but in His mercy God has saved a people for Himself, is to me one of the most awe-inspiring aspects of the Christian gospel message. Romans 6:23 reminds us of this important fact by saying:
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So why would anyone want to twist that message?
Amidst the annual revelry that was the 2016/17 New Year celebration, a particular phrase thrown about by well-wishers caught my attention. It is probably something that gets said every year, but I noticed it more this year than in the past. Countless blogs popped up with tips on how to make 2017 your ‘best year yet’ and many people promised loved ones the year would take them to new heights. Perhaps it was particularly prominent given the fact that many saw 2016 as a big black mark on history thanks to several blows to their collective positivity throughout the 365 day journey around the sun – including a series of high profile celebrity deaths and a less-than-desirable US presidential election with two highly questionable candidates. Perhaps not. Either way, it struck me as presumptuous at best, perhaps even arrogant.
Earlier this year I read Kingdom Come by Sam Storms. I suppose until recently I held the default eschatological position of many Christians, known as historic premillennialism. However, the ministry through which I came to understand the truths of reformed theology is heavily postmillennial and while I listen to their teaching and appreciate their optimism and passion for the world to continue to get better, I can’t fully reconcile postmillennialism with the world around me.
As I began to study eschatology more closely I said to several people that I think the church would be in a much better place if more Christians lived like post-millennial believers, but again, the overarching flow of historical events stopped me short of believing that we are heading for some sort of golden age on this side of the second coming.
Enter Sam’s book, which became for me a turning point and a source of clarity on the ‘end times’. It is quite scholarly and is not an easy read at times. I think it has more footnotes than any other theological book I’ve read to date (minus the Bible)! It is worth reading though and I commend it to all (reformed or not) who are serious about understanding what the book of Revelation means in light of the Bible as a whole.
I should preface the following statement by saying that I am generally comfortable with the standard social conventions and greetings of western culture; a handshake, a quick hug and perhaps a peck (kiss) on the cheek, depending on how close the two people are. That said, there is something just not right about a man giving a soft handshake. For a long time now I’ve taken to referring to such an encounter as a ‘wet fish handshake’. Like a wet fish, it is just not pleasant – it is limp, perhaps lazy, seemingly weak and usually unexpected. I don’t want to get into an argument around gender stereotypes, but in my experience a soft, non-committal handshake just seems… not worth it at best or a bit icky at worst – sort of like holding a wet fish, except without the cold and the stench (unless of course you’re outside in winter and your handshake partner hasn’t showered for some time). The reason for this article though isn’t really my discomfort with a certain badly handled (excuse the pun) social convention, but rather a concern I have that, in some ways, for many evangelical churches, the culture and even the means of presenting the truth of the gospel have become a bit like a wet fish handshake – hence the title – escaping the evangellyfish culture.